Finding my way to Amberley Fields
This story happened on: 26/01/2012
In May 2008, I took a caravan trip from Norfolk to West Sussex, travelling on my own. I overnighted at Ashridge Farm CC site, and did my best to familiarise myself with the Caravan Club handbook instructions on how to arrive at Amberley Fields CC site, studied my large scale road atlas, and programmed my sat nav. The challenge when you are towing your caravan on your own, in unfamiliar territory, is that you frequently cannot pull over, stop and check your route.
I set off the next morning, and survived the M25. My troubles began when I turned onto the M23. Not long after, my sat nav triumphantly announced ‘you have reached your destination’ which I clearly hadn’t – no caravan site or even a sign in sight.
I knew that Amberley Fields was on Charlwood Road, Lowfield Heath. I left the M23 and cautiously drove around looking for something that might help me. Eventually I found Charlwood Road. I cheered up- I must be nearly at the site, I thought. The road became narrower- just two vehicles wide. I turned a corner, to find to my horror that the road had become channelled- barricades along each side, and a solid reservation along the middle – and a barrier ahead! It was a bus route onto Gatwick Airport. I tried to reverse, but the constricted carriageway and the sharp curve in the road made this impossible. It is one thing reversing your caravan onto a pitch which is wide open, no obstacles, no pressure, and quite another thing in the situation which faced me.
Worse still, a shuttle bus speeded around the corner, and screeched to a halt when the driver saw me in the way. He leapt out of his bus, and strode over to berate me. I explained that I was unable to reverse out of his way. He added a few choice epithets. Miserably, I eased forward towards the barrier. I was so relieved to see that it was automatically opening! I drove through, and pulled up at the other side, with the bus driver yelling that I couldn’t do that. Well, I had, and he had a schedule to keep to, so he shook his fist, climbed back in his bus and drove past.
What could I do now? As I sat there miserably going over and over this nightmare in my mind, an airport ranger suddenly appeared from nowhere in his official pickup truck. He hadn’t been sent to sort me out: no-one seemed to know I was even there. He had just finished his shift, and was driving off site. He laughed when I explained my predicament. The barrier on the outgoing channel of the road was controlled by a swipe card- he had his ready, raised the barrier, whilst I turned round on the wider area inside the airport perimeter, and saw me and my outfit safely out. There was a parking layby a little way along the outgoing lane, I pulled in there, and he explained what had happened.
Before the war, RAF Gatwick was just built in the middle of a piece of countryside called Lowfield Heath. Charlwood Road crossed the heath, so the airfield and its runways just cut it in two. After the war, the former RAF base became London Gatwick Airport, so the road was cut in two forever. To this day, there are two bits of Charlwood Road, one to the north of the airport, and the other to the south, and except for airport authorised traffic, you can’t cross the site.
With the help of the ranger’s instructions, I was able to negotiate the roads around the airport to find the other part of Charlwood Road which did actually lead to Amberley Fields. I was so pleased to see the caravan site, set up my caravan and relax.
Ever since that day, I have made even more effort before going to a ‘new’ site to make sure that I can safely find the way.